Liverpool should be the favourites for the Champions League because Philippe Coutinho’s departure has actually strengthened them by improving the balance in the team says a former Reds captain.
The Brazilian playmaker quit Anfield in a £142million move to Barcelona in January but while his new side – for whom he is cup-tied in the Champions League – were dumped out of the competition by Roma this week, his former Reds team-mates have been in sensational form, thrashing Premier League champions-elect Manchester City 5-1 on aggregate.
Paul Ince believes that Coutinho’s exit actually ended up helping manager Jurgen Klopp.
Speaking to Paddy Power, he declared: “When you look at Liverpool’s recent performances, they’re on another planet to the rest of the league in terms of balance and having the right mix in the team.
“The amazing thing is, that’s is all of the back of Philippe Coutinho leaving. Everyone thought that when he left that it would weaken Liverpool – but it’s actually strengthened them.
“That’s because they were probably too reliant on the Brazilian. Everything had to go through him. With him out of the picture, other people have stepped up and not just Mo Salah.
“Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all have showed they’re not in Coutinho’s shadow.
“It’s much more of a team effort now, rather than it being all about one player. Yes, Salah is the standout man and that’s obvious, but every one of them puts a shift in.”
With a 3-0 demolition of City at Anfield followed by this week’s 2-1 comeback win at the Etihad, the Reds find themselves in their first Champions League semi-final for a decade but Ince reckons the attacking firepower of Klopp’s men makes them the team to fear in the last four.
He said: “Liverpool can win the Champions League without a doubt.
“It’s a competition they are made for. And no other team has looked as impressive as them over the quarter-finals.
“Yes, Real Madrid are always impressive, but they didn’t exactly look great against Juventus in the second leg.
“In fact, I would’ve said Man City were the only team Liverpool should fear that were left in the competition…and look what they did to them.
“I know how people will react when I say this – but I think, of the teams left in the competition, Liverpool have by far the best attacking players.”
Ince added: “Madrid have Ronaldo, yes. But I’m talking about the combination. Not just Lewandowski or Ribery, and not just by names, but by who is in form and is playing at the top of their game now.
“You’d have to take Salah, Firmino and Mane. They must be the top three in the competition.
“That’s why I believe they will go on to win it. If they play how they did against City over two legs, no one can beat them.”
Ince believes the power of the Reds support has already proven a big factor in getting their side through their quarter-finals against their North West rivals and he has backed them to roar the players all the way to lifting the trophy in Kiev.
He said: “No other fans are going to compete with Liverpool’s. Sometimes in the Champions League, the atmosphere can go a bit flat.
“But we saw that they feel as though this is their competition, with all the history and tradition that goes with the team. It can be intimidating, and it can impact the way you play.
“That’s what I believe we saw with some of the City players. The singing, hissing, whistling and intense environment is something Pep Guardiola’s men just weren’t used to, and I do think it impacted the way they play. They looked seriously under pressure.
“The fans know they have a massive part to play. If you’d said to me two or three years ago that Liverpool would be in a Champions League semi-final, I’d probably have laughed in your face. It’s a real credit to Jurgen Klopp.
“I want Liverpool to win it. And if I was Klopp I would focus all of my efforts on doing so.
“They aren’t going to win the league, top four is probably secure, so go all out and get that trophy.
“It would be incredible for the club and real bragging rights over both Manchester United and City.”
Paul Ince was speaking exclusively to Paddy Power News. To read more click here